The Facebook Debate: Notes and Thoughts

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

The Facebook Debate

So, last Wednesday, I went to the [Great Facebook Debate](, held by the [British Interactive Media Association]( at the BT Centre in London. I described it on Twitter as a “[bit shallow](” which, with hindsight, seems a bit harsh. Looking back over my notes, I’d say it turned into a capable round-up of the issues around the sudden mainstream success of the social network, but failed to provide any real new insights. Let’s plunge in:
Panel Discussion
[Hugh MacLeod]( reiterated his trio of key ideas about social media:
1. It revolves around social objects – shared objects, if you prefer 2. Cheap, easy global media 3. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchies
[JP Rangaswami](, managing director of service design for BT Design, did much the same, listing four pillars of online interaction:
1. subscribe 2. search 3. buy/sell 4. talk
Facebook does all these, he suggested. But there are limitations, including a flow of non-useful information (is it useful to know that a friend is leaving a group?)
“It’s just an instance [of social networking], not the beginning and end of the world,” he concluded. 
[Chad Wollen]( of AOL showed some pretty compelling graphs – blog discussion about Facebook is shooting up, discussion about MySpace is down. Facebook is more popular in the UK than MySpace, although it remains the other way around in the US. He described it as a textbook case of innovation – but it’s a closed system with the data locked in and no evident route to monetisation of that data. “The Social Graph may not have much value to advertisers, even though it has great value to us.”
Is it a fad? “No. Not an interesting question.”
[![Video interview at the Facebook Debate](](
Corporate Facebook Use
The came questions from the audience, starting with the inevitable debate about use and misuse of Facebook at work. 
JP claimed that BT hadn’t had any major issue with Facebook misuse, and left it freely available.  However, “liberty is not licence,” he explained. 
“We don’t expect misuse. We are not a time-punching organisation. In a knowledge business you don’t measure performance by time of arrival and departure, but by what you produce.”
Blogging vrs Facebook
Hugh was asked if the blogging A-list was being killed by Facebook.  The A-list is there, he suggested, but is a tiny part of what people know. “It’s useful if interested in certain things, but those things are a tiny fraction of humanity.”
However, he believes that blogging is very, very time-consuming – and most don’t have the time. “I like writing, doing cartoons, I’m a freak,” he said.
Interestingly, he suggested that Facebook was born from a unique environment. “University is a special time in the US. You study together, sleep together, eat together.” Laughter from the audience caused Hugh to pause and say “Well, I did. What were you doing?” The point was that it’s a very intense time where you build a family of your peers. Zuckerberg built a website that allowed these groups to connect with each other – who is doing what tonight. A blog is for a more abstract audience.
Corporate Interaction With Facebook & MySpace
[![The Facebook Debate audience](](
[Techcrunch UK](‘s Mike Butcher leapt up with a question about whether BT was still comfortable supporting the debate given the news earlier in the day about [the Skype/Myspace deal]( 
JP responded cautiously that he was there in a “personal capacity”, to mild derision from both the crowd, and the host [Paul Walsh](, However, he admitted that BT was looking at embedding forms of communication within it.  A quick survey proved that there was virtually no connection between MySpace and Facebook, given that only about half a dozen of the people present who used Facebook now used to use MySpace before.
“They’re different beasts,” JP said. “Facebook is attracting people who operate in enterprises.”
Mike riposted with the suggestion that BT should look very carefully at Facebook’s terms & conditions before going that route – because they suggest that Facebook owns everything.
Facebook Etiquette
Hugh pointed out that people are very polite on Facebook. The reason? Being rude has consequences – you get defriended. Trolling doesn’t boost your traffic, it makes you ever more invisible in Facebook.  
“By being, you have more power than a little troll on Techcrunch UK,” said Hugh. He claimed that we was talking about the commenters, not Mr Butcher himself, but you never know…
There was also some discussion about whether people would end up as users of several different social networks, keeping different elements of their life discreet. Some thought that most people would tend to use different networks for different tasks, but a couple of the panellists were keen to point out that the most balanced and happy people they knew were those who didn’t segregate their lives. (One could wonder which is the cause and which is the effect, though…)
And Paul mentioned that he’d known a friend suffer the ultimate indignity: being dumped through a status update…
The Debates
Three topics were up for debate: should Facebook be banned from Corporate networks; Facebook’s decision to open up its interface to all developers was a mistake; and friend requests from your boss should be ignored. The audience were asked by host [Oli Barrett]( to vote off one of the topics and, much to my surprise, they chose the first. And so, we plunged straight into a discussion about Facebook apps. The odds were certainly stacked against those speaking against the opening up of the Facebook platform – you could count the number of people agreeing with their position on one hand at the start of the debate. 
[Josie Fraser]( gave a quick and quite compelling speech suggesting, simply, that life is too short to be dealing with some of the crappy Facebook apps that have arisen (and most of us are very bored at invitations to become zombies. Or Ninjas. Or Jedi.) The serious point here is that the notifications from these silly apps actually devalue the lifestream of your news feed. How useful is it to know that JimBob’s vampire was attacked by Joe Shmoe’s Slayer?
[Sam Sethi]( spoke next, to explain why the integration of apps has made his use of Facebook much simpler. I’ll let his words speak for themselves in the video on the right. 
[Robert Loch]( of That’s Useful suggested that the apps were just a game for an IPO, making the service worse as the users are spammed with invites just to persuade the world that company is worth $40bn.
However, [Damian Mulley]( had a simpler message – If you like greed and you like screwing over stupid people, then you should support what Facebook has done…
And there, alas, I was forced to leave for another engagement. I’m certainly glad I attended, if only for the chance to catch up with some friends. But I’m not convinced that I learned a huge amount. Sure, plenty of people are interested in Facebook. Sure, plenty of people want to know where the money is. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Chad and Hugh hit the nail on the head with their idea that most of the value in the idea is in the utility to the users – and that’s not easily monetisable by outsiders to the system. 
bimadebateeventsFacebookfacebook debate

Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.